In a world shaped by quarantine, with those who currently grieve for loved ones taken away too soon, Joseph Fasano’s The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing shows the complex changes a person can make when having to confront loss in complete isolation. At the center of the story is an unnamed character who travels deep into the wilderness with his son after his wife’s sudden death. Together they track and hunt the ever-elusive mountain lion. During this time, the reader experiences how easy it is for the hunter to become the hunted as another tragedy strikes the unnamed character. This becomes the tipping point that sends him into the forest for years, continuing his hunt through the icy winter for the lion, which he believes will bring closure to his sorrow and primal vengeance. Much of this book is about survival, of the physical form, and the psychological. Fasano navigates these themes by showing the reader flashbacks from the protagonist’s past. As a young boy, his dad would take him into the mountains to hunt and camp, teaching him all the vital skills one needs to survive. As an adult, his manliness was shaped by his time on a fishing vessel with a captain who had a pension for fist fighting.
Fasano’s background as a poet leads credence to the age-old writing adage that in order to become a better writer; one must first learn how to write as a poet. Throughout this novel, his prose is sculpted with a dense and abstract aesthetic. “As a wave of foliage tumbling down through a cavern will rise up on a vortex and search itself along the high, dark walls of granite, so will a boy’s voice.” There is a poetic cadence and rhythm to his work as well, delivering mesmeric fragmented language that only a poet of his caliber can successfully achieve. “This is the bread. The milk. The horses. Look at them. Say the name of things. Say bread. Say milk. Say stay. The taste of it. The taste of it. The night like the dark bread for the breaking and the body on its opened knees and opening.” This novel reads as if Fasano critically examined each word, sentence by sentence, setting the bar high for how beautiful prose should read. Told through the first-person point of view, the reader must adapt to the language that the character has grown to use, and this only makes the character and the world around him more real.
Characterization and interiority are where Fasano shines in this novel. To create a dynamic and complex character, he shapes his roughness with tender flashbacks. There are scenes of fatherhood, watching as his curious young son grows into the world around him. We see tough moments from his childhood, and the flawed relationship he had with his father. The reader gets glimpses into his marriage, and witnesses how his wife had a profound and lasting effect on his life. These moments with his wife and his son are the only times we see him truly happy. Fasano skillfully pairs these flashbacks back to back with the cruel realities of surviving in the winter, broken and starving. At times, when the unnamed narrator is further into journey, lacking food and water, these flashbacks cut right into the middle of the prose, coming onto the page like fever dreams. Despite all of his hardship, the novel wants to remind the reader that hope can still exist, even in our darkest moments. These themes are shown to us through the tough journey the man must make in order to find himself, and what’s really driving him to search for the lion. All of this culminates in creating a character who has done nothing but fought his entire life and finally finds a reason to take the gloves off. However, tragically, he is pulled back into the fray and must press on for one last battle.
Publication: Platypus Press
Publication Date: September 1st, 2020
Reviewed by Adam Schwartz